I have learned from my many years of experience in the janitorial industry that all too often customers don’t ask enough questions of prospective janitorial vendors. People tend to hire a firm based on price, get burned because of poor service, and repeat the process again and again.
If companies changed the way they hire firms, this wouldn’t keep happening. Most customers have become resigned to the fact that they won’t get good service and have very low expectations. I believe this resignation stems from the fact that people don’t understand the importance of hiring wisely. It is not their fault because most firms look, smell and sound professional.
Selecting a janitorial firm is the same as hiring a C-level manager. Hiring the wrong person can have a major impact on your company. Why? Because janitorial firms are responsible for the presentation, safety and security of your building and its occupants.
A facility that isn’t properly cleaned can lead to a whole host of problems. If you are a property manager, your tenants may cite it as a breach of contract and break their lease. If you run a hospital or medical facility, a representative from the State can drop by at any time to do a compliance audit. If you oversee a school, you know that it must be clean to please parents and keep student sick days to a minimum. If you work in a commercial building, a dirty office can leave a negative impression on customers.
In addition to cleanliness, it is essential that you trust the company that you’ve selected. Your cleaning crew has access to desks and other valuables, not to mention the fact that if they clean at night, they are responsible for locking doors and setting alarms. Doors left unlocked can cause major liability issues.
So, what can you do?
Ask the right questions up front to avoid problems down the road. If you open the phone book and see listings for 700 firms, you should only be getting two to three bids if you take the time to ask the right questions. If you are receiving five to seven bids, you’re not asking the right questions. Think about it. Just because a company can provide you with a bid does not mean they will do a good job. That’s like saying that anyone that walks into your office with a resume is a great fit for your company. Asking the right questions will help ensure that you’re working with who you want to work with and putting an end to the “revolving door” syndrome. Start with the ones I’ve listed here and add additional questions as you see fit:
1. How are they hiring people?
2. What are the training requirements for their workers?
3. Do they offer their employees opportunities to receive specialized training or certification?
4. If so, what are the requirements for recertification?
5. What customer service systems do they have in place?
6. How and when would they be communicating with you (e.g. phone, email, in-person)?
7. Are you able to contact them when you need to? (A lot of janitorial work is done at night so it can be difficult to contact self-employed vendors in the morning.)
Think about whether you are strictly interested in purchasing a commodity (i.e. having your building cleaned) or if you also want some level of customer service to accompany that. The old saying “Quality, price or service…choose one” rings loud and clear here. You will get what you pay for.
8. How frequently do they bill? Are they able to do a 30 or 45 day net?
9. Do they accept credit card? Electronic transfer funds (ETF)?
A lot of small firms don’t have the necessary systems in place to be able to take ETF or don’t have the cash flow to be able to float payroll for 45 days. Your billing preferences may affect what size company is the best fit for you.
10. Do they carry liability insurance and what are their coverage limits?
11. Do they have workers comp insurance coverage for their employees?
Even though the employees of your janitorial company are technically not your responsibility, you could be held liable if the company is treating its workers unethically and a court deems that you were aware of the situation.
Suggestions for Interviewing Potential Vendors
1. Hold a group briefing for potential bidders about what is required for the job.
2. Tell potential vendors they need to come in with questions. If a vendor can’t ask you detailed questions about what you expect in terms of service deliverables, communication requirements, billing, etc., they shouldn’t be considered.
3. If you will be hiring a day porter or if your janitorial crew will be interacting with your customers (e.g. tenants, patients, etc.), you might want to consider doing a DISC profile assessment on the staff that will be in your building.
4. Ask for at least 3 references. Better yet, ask to visit some of their locations.
Bottom line: Make sure a potential janitorial provider has to jump through a certain number of hoops before they are even allowed do a walk-through of your facility.
Customers change the marketplace based on what they want. Maybe I’m naive in believing that customers want great service. Maybe people only want the lowest price for a passable service. In that case, having detailed selection criteria would be pointless. However, from my sales days I remember that customers were looking for consistency, value, communication and honesty. I’m assuming that you too are looking for these things. If so, by asking the right questions you will get what you want. Good luck out there…